Table of Contents
This blog entry updates daily, expanding on the story of Our November, And Nothing More as it develops.
My character results are as follows:
Honey: Dancer (1)
Killer: Territorial (2)
Leafcutter: Sufficient (4)
Bumble: Durable (1)
Sugarbag: Emotion (2)
Carpenter: Historical (5)
Bamrella the Bidder of Tomorrow
This is the end
This is the end
But this is the pulse
Where beats begin
The Wax-Crowned Queen on her Sugar Throne
Wields a thousand chains
Wields a thousand whips
Wields a thousand hands to build her Hive on the Hill
And a thousand children to replace their sister dead.
“And this one over here? The one with the glasses?” Queen Bamrella gestured to over the bees scampering beneath her. The Hive on the Hill was working at full capacity today, yet Bamrella still hunted for imperfections. Her wings fluttered without tiring. “She’s the one who knows?”
Killer circled above her Queen and nodded. “Heard her yesterday. Blasphemy, I call it!”
They watched the single worker bee scribbling away on her wax paper—the heretic in a spotlit shadow. Bamrella despised conniving underlings, especially those who would wish to leave her Hive on the Hill. The Queen had to keep them focused—had to keep them ignorant. Those who doubted the safety of the Hive would doubt the will of the Queen, and Bamrella needed her workers and drones to remember who kept them safe in the Winter. A bee who spoke out…
“And her name?” Bamrella asked, eyes not budging from her target.
“Carpenter,” Killer stated. “She’s a builder from my batch. Helped with the architecture on the Southern Comb when the heat wave arrived. A clever bee—but she knows too much, right?”
“And what about you, Killer? Would you claim that you know too much as well?” Bamrella turned to her loyal worker, eyes narrowing. “If knowing too much is worthy of death—”
“I don’t know what she knows,” Killer defended herself, her sly and narrowing gaze panicking for a brief moment. “I just know the bookish brat has information that could upturn the Hive as we know it.”
“Then fix the problem,” Bamrella said. “Live up to your namesake.”
* * *
Carpenter crawled into her hexroom, the waxen walls at perfectly measured angles—just like she made them. The little bee shuffled through stacks of old papers, some from as long ago as three years—before Queen Bamrella! Her broodmate, Leafcutter, had found the first stack of notes while scavenging through the dilapidated combs in the Juniper Cluster. Though the combs in that district were off limits, Leafcutter had a way of interpreting rules: ignore first, apologize later.
“It’s all in the seasons!” Carpenter muttered, spreading the notes in a neat array in front of her. “The change—it’s based on seasons. It has to be. I know it has to be! This December Sleep pattern... I know it—”
“Know-it-all, know-it-all, know-it-all. That’s all you do…” a sing-songy voice chirped from the hexroom above Carpenter’s, breaking the bee from her concentration.
“Not now,” Carpenter muttered, trying not to regain focus.
“Whatcha got?” Honey poked her head over so that she was looking down at her neighbor. “Ah, reading... Another exciting night for Carpenter. Don’t you do that a little too much?”
Carpenter swatted at Honey’s head, but the tiny bee simply twitched her little neck and stuck out her tongue.
“Rude!” Honey spat.
“Being nosy is also rude!” Carpenter muttered.
“I like being nosy.”
“If you’re going to be nosy, then you could at least be helpful!”
Honey chuckled, “I’ve done my chores for the day already—”
“Not all help need be chores—”
“Cleaned the baskets, dusted the entrance, waved my tushy-point at a grasshopper that was eyeballing a daisy too hard, sorted pollen… What’s a girl got to do for a nice night of fun?”
Carpenter spoke through a clenched mouth. “Look! I worked as well. It’s what we do. We all work. We get up, we work, we protect the Hive, and we sleep. Day in. Day out…”
“Yeeeah, and you use your downtime to study?” Honey rolled her eyes.
Carpenter jumped to her feet and batted her wings so furiously that she almost popped her stinger out. “If what these notes say are true, we may not have to work for the Hive ever again, Honey!”
For once in her week-long life, Honey stopped talking. She perked up and zipped from her waxroom down to her neighbor’s, eyes scrambling over the papers spread out before them.
“Got your attention?” Carpenter said.
Honey nodded. “I liked the part where you said we won’t have to work.”
* * *
Queen Bamrella stood with her wax crown in front of the Sugar Throne, alone except for one worker bee kneeling before her. Rumor around the Hive on the Hill bid an ill tiding for how Bamrella conducted herself in the throne room: if she were sitting, she was calm—if she were standing, rage bloomed within.
The silence lingered, but the worker never spoke.
“Bumble, is it?” Bamrella ended the silence, appeased with the worker's fealty.
“Aye, ma’am,” the bee responded. She was the largest worker among the whole lot—well-fed and as sturdy as tree bark. Almost as large as the Queen herself. A bee like this one could take ten stings and still remain airborne. “Bumble’s m' name.”
“Are you familiar with the Juniper Cluster?” Bamrella wrung her hands together.
“Juniper Cluster? Aye, ma’am. That area of the Hive's been abandoned for… well, for longer than any but you’ve been around.”
“I don’t want it abandoned.”
Bumble paused. “Aye… we reopenin' the wing or—”
“I want it gone.”
The massive worker bee stuttered a bit, choosing her words with care. She had no reason to doubt the Queen’s words—she was in charge. But eradicating Juniper Cluster came with a rough issue that the Queen may have missed in her oversight.
“Demolishin’ Juniper Cluster means no more Southern Comb. Derelict as it may be, it's still a support structure—”
“I am aware, you ignorant moron!” Bamrella took a step towards her subordinate. “I know that Juniper Cluster’s destruction will lead to the whole of Southern Comb collapsing! You are to do as you are told and not tell anyone, do you understand? I am the one who thinks. You are the one who shuts up and does as she is told."
“Aye… aye ma’am,” Bumble said, bowing before the Queen. “As you say. Keeping mum and doin' what I'm told, yep! That's Bumble! Loyal to ya, my Queen...”
The Queen of the Hive on the Hill dismissed her worker, leaving her at peace. Not even her loyal drones dared to enter until she gave the command. November had begun, and if Bamrella wished to see another November on another year, the workers couldn’t get out of line. No more Juniper Cluster meant no more digging up old information from former Queens, and no more Southern Comb meant a sudden need for working and for birthing new eggs.
Many would die... many thousands.
And many jobs would be open again.
Work, work, work… And then sleep.
A great, long sleep…
This wouldn’t be the first time that Bamrella had the majority of the Hive die during the December Sleep. Such was the way of the world. Such was the will of the Queen. And such would be the years and years to come.
See now the dregs of royal sloth,
Of girls anew
Old girls forgot
The cycle weaves a bitter cloth
A girl will speak,
"We're better off."
And wings once bound, unfettered fly
To race with fate
To take the sky
Forsake the state of slaves in sty
"We're free," she spake,
"And doomed to die."
“This is bad,” Honey fidgeted, her bonnet about to slip off her little head. “This is bad, bad, bad!”
Carpenter waved a hand at Honey’s face. “Shush! If Bamrella didn’t—”
“Well she isn’t my Queen anymore.”
Honey’s eyes bolted open, and for the first time in her sporadic life, she struggled to find her words. “B-b-but if you… You can’t say… That’s a bad thing to say, Carpenter. That’s a bad, bad, bad—”
“Pish posh, pish posh!” Carpenter silenced her companion. “The cold season is coming, and if my suspicions are correct…”
Carpenter shoveled through the dilapidated wax debris in the Juniper Cluster. She had received a message from Leafcutter early that morning that explained more of Leafcutter’s suspicions. Since all bees obeyed every word from the Queen, then Bamrella never bothered eradicating precious information from Juniper Cluster—the massive Hive network and throne room of the late Queen Juniper. And since Bamrella banned every bee from digging through Juniper Cluster, she never worried that any of her children would dare dig through the histories of forgotten Queens.
But Leafcutter wasn’t like all bees.
Leafcutter had been digging through Juniper Cluster ever since she could fly—gobbling up any information regarding the swarm’s ethos. A survivalist by spirit, Leafcutter preferred to stay prepared, and she had planted the idea in Carpenter’s ear that not all bees needed a Queen: which was heresy! But after parting enough scandalous ideas into Carpenter’s ears, Leafcutter had already sown the seeds for independence within her friends.
As much as Carpenter trusted Leafcutter's belief that Queens didn't have their workers' needs in check, Carpenter needed proof.
“Here!” Carpenter shouted, prying out a half-melted trunk with Queen Juniper’s seal on it. “This matches the symbol Carpenter showed me.”
Honey helped set the trunk down, and the two little bees hovered in the air, tracing the trunk with their fingers.
“Smells like royal jelly to me,” Honey said, licking it. “Tastes like it too!”
“Right! This was the late Queen Juniper’s,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter hoisted the lid open, her eager eyes scanning the contents. Resting in the trunk were three tablets composed of hardened paper, each one with twelve pieces of parchment.
“More books?” Honey asked, peeking inside.
“Not books. Calendars!” Carpenter pushed Honey aside and tossed the calendars out of the chests. “Queen Juniper used these to plan her days. Three of these with twelve months a piece, that means Queen Juniper lived…” Carpenter carved the numbers into the wax with her stinger. “The former Queen lived for over a thousand days!”
“A thousand?” Honey fell to the ground, her wings unable to keep her stunned body airborne. She gripped her antennae with her hands. “B-b-but bees only live for forty or fifty days at the most.”
Carpenter flipped through the calendars, scanning them for any information about Bamrella. “Here, on all three years… it shows that there are Autumn broods of worker bees like us, and they live for…” Carpenter dropped the calendar. “Over a hundred days…”
Honey snatched up the calendar and nearly shouted, “But we’re an Autumn brood! The brood before us didn’t last for even forty.”
“The brood before us was a Summer brood.”
“And Summer broods don’t last long—because they don’t hibernate.”
Honey wrinkled her face up. “What’s hibernate?”
A third voice joined their own. “It’s when the Hive sleeps.”
They both turned and saw another worker bee hovering above them, stinger out—her stinger was always out. The interloping bee was one of Bamrella’s most loyal subjects, a prideful creature fiercely aware of where boundaries lie—and what measures needed to be taken to ensure such boundaries remained.
“Oh, Killer!” Carpenter tried to cover up the calendars. “I didn’t know you were allowed into Juniper Cluster.”
“I’m not,” Killer muttered, lowering herself down to her peers. “Nobody is.”
Honey piped in, “Well, Queen Bamrella the Bidder of Tomorrow asked us to get the, um, the records from Queen Juniper.” She gave a halfhearted smirk, eyes darting between Killer and Carpenter. “For the upcoming hibernation!”
Killer rolled her eyes. “For hibernation?”
“You didn’t even know what that meant thirty seconds ago—”
Carpenter stopped the back-and-forth nonsense. Their ruse was up. “What are you here for, Killer?”
Killer grinned, her beady eyes bearing down on Carpenter. “For you.”
As Killer raised her stinger, all three bees twitched as the wax ground beneath them shuddered. They looked at each other, then floated upwards as the ground shook again.
“What’s going on?” Honey asked, fidgeting.
“This is new…” Killer said, sheathing her stinger.
“It’s the December Sleep,” Carpenter said, holding one of the calendars in front of her. “It happens every year. Before everyone hides inside the Hive, the Queen kills the... excess.”
“Excess!?” Honey shouted. “What excess?”
Juniper Cluster shook again, this time dislodging a massive wax chunk that bouldered off the edge and collapsed onto the grass below, exploding in a massive chunk.
“We are the excess!” Carpenter shouted.
Killer zoomed upward. Above her, several other bees started to scatter from the Southern Comb—the panic happened without direction, no queenly pheromones to guide the bees to their duties. They scampered in mindless fear, unaware whether their plight came from predator, nature, or within.
“Over there!” Killer pointed. “There’s a fight!”
Killer zipped away. Honey and Carpenter exchanged looks, then abandoned the idea that Killer still wanted to eradicate them—a larger problem had surfaced. Wordlessly, they followed Killer’s trail, hot in pursuit to see what kind of fight she had discovered.
“What is this?” Killer shouted as she approached the scuffle.
This deep within Juniper Cluster, the walls had caved in to the point where the bees couldn’t fly. Shreds of wax and honeycomb criss-crossed in blighted abandon, rotted and mulched with bits of leaves and dirt. Killer landed and crawled to where she had seen two bees at ends with another, emerging within a dark cavern.
Beams of light from outside illuminated the musky, damp area. Cracks opened up in the ceiling to let in more sunbeams as Juniper Cluster began to collapse, and as Honey and Carpenter joined Killer on the precipice, an opening in the ceiling lit up the largest worker bee that any of them had ever seen. She was pinning down a smaller worker bee, one laden down with junk and knickknacks—her survival gear.
“Leafcutter!” Carpenter shouted, then flew across the cavern towards her friend. “Get off her!”
The large bee backed away, her face twisted in a rough mixture of fear, hate, and sorrow. “I-I-I had to do it! Aye, she made me do it!” the large bee said.
“She’s a murderer!” Leafcutter cried, climbing to her feet. Her wings were twisted to the point of being unable to fly, but the rebellious bee refused to bow down. “I found her chewing away the supports down here!”
Killer unsheathed her stinger. “Who gave you the orders?” she shouted at the large bee.
“Her majesty! Queen Bamrella! I had to do it…” the bee mumbled.
Killer winced, fully aware of how Bamrella gave orders. “And you are?”
“Bumble,” the bee spat out. “I was only followin’ orders. I was only—”
Before Bumble could finish, half of the ceiling shattered from its moorings, and sheets of wax crumbled into the cavern. Honey and Carpenter zipped out of the way, bulldozing into Killer and Leafcutter, pushing them out of the oncoming danger. Bumble tried to fly, but the chunk of wax collapsed onto her, kicking brittle pieces of dry honeycomb and dust into the air.
“We have to leave!” Leafcutter pushed herself to her feet. “The Hive is doomed.”
Carpenter shook her head. “Not doomed. Just… reduced.” She clenched her fists. “It’s always reduced during the December Sleep.”
Leafcutter scrunched up her face, unsure of Carpenter’s words, but before she could say anything, Bumble burst unscathed through the sheet of wax that had fallen on her. She shook the dried honeycomb off of her hairs, but the sunken horror in her face showed that as sturdy as she was on the outside, she would never learn to live with her actions.
“… Orders…” Bumble said.
“To hell with your orders. Come on!” Leafcutter shambled over to Bumble and crawled onto her back. “You’re a big gal. Get us out of here!”
“Just follow orders!” Killer added.
Killer’s words shook Bumble out of her stupor, and the big bee tore into the sky, abandoning the Hive as the Southern Comb collapsed below. The other three joined her, and Leafcutter clung to her back, eyes focused on the Hive on the Hill.
The Queen’s work now done…
December Sleep had happened.
“The excess…” Carpenter muttered, looking towards Honey. “Heck of a price for others to pay for the rest to live for a hundred days.”
They fluttered away, leaving the Hive and Bamrella to the chaos issued by years of tradition. Aimless, they were. But free.
A silence rattles these our ladies.
No familiar buzzing but their own.
White-knuckle hand in white-knuckle hand.
Doldrum-deafened, this windless world wails,
To a crowd of once slave women
Unfound to the yoke.
Bound only to
They soared into the night, abandoning their sisters and Queen to the chaos ensuing from the dreaded December Sleep. Behind them, a cloud of surviving bees swarmed above the Hive on the Hill—dragging out the dead and dying, no doubt.
Even those who survived and stayed—what then?
With the entire Southern Comb collapsed, thousands of destitute workers would be forced to brave the elements. Abandoned by the Queen, those refugees had no direction or course of duty, each one floundering on their own in a sad attempt to cobble together an existence in exile. And those lucky enough to stay? Yes, they would live on for months during the cold. But their home was now a cage.
Wasn’t it always?
“Carpenter…” Honey said.
But Carpenter didn’t pay the little bee any attention. She kept flying, her mind focused, skipping and jumping over every possible scenario they may encounter. The wilderness beyond the Hive catered as lair to unspeakable monsters, some so terrible—
“Carpenter!” Honey repeated.
—and the bees weren’t strangers to monsters, but a safe Hive and thousands of comrades could stave off any intruder. And the weather! What happens when the cold arrives? How could five bees create their own Hive in so short—
“Huh?” Carpenter hovered in her place, finally snapped out of her thoughts. “What’s going on?”
“We need to rest,” Killer said, pointing at Bumble. “I think Bumble’s about to fall out.”
Leafcutter patted the large bee on her back. “She’s tuckered. A tough one, but even she needs rest from carrying me all day.”
The bees agreed—they had been flying enough. Carpenter never realized exactly how much her wings ached from the ceaseless flying. Normally she would be resting in between flowers, stocking up on nectar and letting her hands get to work. Even with all the flying, on a normal day she could scarf down pollen to keep her strength up. But as her stomach gurgled and her wings seeped with weight, Carpenter concluded that the rest of the night would have to be a desperate sleep with five empty stomachs.
“We need to be on the ground,” Leafcutter said. “Not in a tree. Birds may nab us in the tree—or on the ground as well, but at least on the ground they’re at risk also.”
Carpenter nodded. “The ground then. Let’s start looking.”
The bees parted, staying close enough to hear each other but far enough to scout out the terrain. Honey zipped over to a daisy and stuffed her face with some much-needed pollen, then tore off a petal to make a basket, which she began filling. She would let the others find housing, allowing herself to skip and flit among the flowers. Without having to gather pollen for the whole Hive, Honey grinned in realization that every piece of pollen she gathered was for her and her friends.
What a strange feeling…
Leafcutter steered Bumble, barging through grass, flowers, and through moldy logs so that they could find the best temporary housing. As spiteful as Leafcutter felt towards Bumble’s actions, she couldn’t blame the girl. Bumble was a worker no different than the others back at the Hive—she took orders as she was told. Not everyone could break themselves away from the will of Bamrella like Leafcutter had done. Not everyone learned about joyfulness in independence.
“What about this?” Killer called out, her stinger pointed forward in case she missed a threat. “Looks safe enough to me.”
The other bees gathered around Killer’s peculiar hovel. She had found a hollow, metal cylinder. It was green on the outside with strange markings, and a hole on the side was just the right size for a bee to crawl in—even Bumble could squeeze in. But to everyone's surprise the bottom of the container had a puddle of sweet-smelling, clear liquid.
Leafcutter climbed off Bumble and scampered to the front of cylinder. She took a sip of the liquid inside. “Sugar!” she shouted, then dove her face into the juice. “It’s perfect!”
“A new home!” Honey clapped her little hands and zipped into the container so fast that she almost snagged her bonnet on the top of the entrance.
Carpenter eyed the cylinder with unease. She had heard of these containers before. They were refuse from other life forms—great life forms of massive size. Could this be their territory? Could this—
A voice from inside the container! The bees stopped moving, their senses on high alert. Carpenter’s hairs stood stiff, and she crept towards the mouth of the metal cylinder. The other bees backed away, but Killer flitted to the top of the cylinder and roosted above the opening, her stinger ready to defend the others.
Carpenter waved her antennae to keep Killer back. “Who goes there?” she called into the can.
The voice whimpered back from the darkness, “I… I found this first!”
“She sounds small,” Killer muttered. “I can make it quick.”
“Hail you from Queen Bamrella’s Hive on the Hill?” Carpenter ignored Killer and pressed the voice for more information.
The voice hesitated before answering back. “Y-y-yes. From the Old Cross Abbey District.”
“Old Cross Abbey…” Bumble whispered as though in a daze. “Safe place… wasn’t held up by the Juniper District—nope!”
Carpenter crawled into the cylinder. Her feet scraped along the thin metal, and as she flicked her wings, their filmy buzzing echoed inside. “I’m Carpenter. I’m from the Southern Comb. Most of us are. Queen Bamrella had part of the Hive on the Hill destroyed…”
“I know. I know… I just…” The speaker stepped forward, and her antennae touched Carpenter’s. “I was harvesting, like always. But when I flew back, everything…” She took a deep breath and let it out. “I saw everyone dying. So I came back here, where I work…”
Carpenter shook her head. “Not everyone died. But enough.”
“You said Queen Bamrella did it?”
“Her orders, yes. The December Sleep. Part of the Hive dies so that the rest can hibernate with the remaining resources.”
The other bee stayed silent, but Carpenter didn’t need words to know her thoughts. The bee’s pheromones gave Carpenter all the information she needed. The bee was scared, alone, and desperate to keep going—so desperate that she made camp in a metal piece of trash for the night. Just like Carpenter and the others were planning.
“I’m Sugarbag,” she finally said. “And I don’t know what to do.”
“None of us do,” Leafcutter spoke up, now crawling into the metal canister.
“We weren’t meant to make decisions,” Killer added.
“Just followin’ orders…” Bumble muttered, her eyes drifting to the ground.
Honey chirped up above all the others, “But Carpenter knows what to do!”
Carpenter’s antennae stood on end. “What?”
“Yep! If there’s someone who knows what’s going on—it’s Carpenter!” Honey didn’t relent her speech. “Carpenter found out what the December Sleep was. Carpenter knows how to make quick decisions when none of us know where to go. And Carpenter is never one to back down while there is someone in need.”
“Oh let’s not get too ahead of ourselves,” Carpenter muttered. “I mean, Leafcutter told me about the old throne room in Juniper Cluster!”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, but you were the only one who could make sense of it,” Leafcutter said, slapping Carpenter on the back. “I’d have thought it was more trash. You’re the one who dug up its meaning—and we’re all alive because of that!”
Honey leapt into the air. “Hail Queen Carpenter!”
“To Queen Carpenter!” Leafcutter joined in.
The other bees repeated the cheer, and for the first time in her little life, Carpenter felt a sense of pride welling within her. Not a personal pride that elated her above the others—but a wave of accomplishment and worth. Here she was, formerly one in thousands—now one in six. And these others trusted their well-being to her now?
They liked her.
They needed her.
“We stay here for tonight only,” Carpenter said, tracing a hand through the sugary liquid on the curvy metal bottom. “From what Sugarbag said, it sounds like we’re still in the territory of the Hive on the Hill. I don’t plan on bumping into any of Bamrella’s patrols. Eat what we can tonight, then fill up on this sweet syrup in the morning. It’s enough energy to fuel us the whole day—like honey, but manufactured in a different Hive. Leafcutter should have her wings back by then, and she can help guide us elsewhere. Right?”
Leafcutter nodded. “I’ve been exploring these lands ever since I learned how to ignore Bamrella’s commands.”
“I’ll keep watch,” Killer said. “A night without sleep never slowed me down before.”
“Sounds good,” Carpenter said. “Sounds… perfect!”
They slept well that night in the soda can beneath the stars. Six little bees without a Hive—but with a Queen-in-Name nonetheless.
Bendiwood, the Grafthome
Life isn't fleeting
Life is a fleet
And the time for unfurled sails
But Hiveless girls are throneless girls,
Though they be mavericks.
These girls are Queens and Queens need thrones
And this new throne seats six.
They woke to the chatter of foreign mouths in monstrous form—tall beasts conversing back and forth in a mystic tongue. Honey was the first to stir, her curiosity overriding her caution, and she crawled out the mouth of the soda can to peer outside.
Ten feet from their location, two tall creatures sat across from one another on the grass. Honey had heard of them from the other bees—they were builders, makers, travelers, and self-made Queens of their own world. Their Hives reached the heavens and beyond, sojourning their thrones into realms never seen by bee or bug.
“They’re the People,” Sugarbag said, waking up and nestling next to Honey. “They live around here. Those two are young, though. Their Hive is close, but there are more Hives farther off.”
“More Hives?” Honey said, stunned. “Bigger than the Hive on the Hill?”
“Much bigger,” Sugarbag said, crawling out of the can and helping Honey up so that they were hovering in the air.
“How much bigger?”
“As big as—”
“Ten times bigger?”
“Well, they’re actually—”
“Twenty times bigger?”
“Honey, if you’d calm down—”
But Honey had already zipped toward the two People, leaving the dew-dimpled grass below. She had never seen People before—only heard the tales. Some were dangerous, according to her other broodmates. The dangerous ones would secrete toxic mist that killed bees instantly, like a rain of death. Or they would swat bees to death!
But there were good ones.
Honey liked the stories about the good ones..
There were People who built Hives for bees, keeping sanctuaries of flowers and fruits and vegetables so that the bees could have all the pollen and nectar they could ever want. These People could raise several Hives all in one place, and the Queens formed counsels—good Queens! These were Queens of a utopian world, where nobody was ever without food or home. In exchange for the protection, the bees in these Hive worlds had to offer up honey and sugar to the People sometimes, but it was a worthy offering for a life without misery, without want, and without fear.
Maybe these People were the good ones?
Honey somersaulted above the two People, eyeballing their actions. They sat on either side of a square piece of wood with little red and black squares on it. The People then slid black and red circles around on the board, laughing or groaning after some of the actions. It was a peculiar sight for Honey, who had never seen this kind of work before. What purpose did the little circles have? Was this a way for the People to communicate, much like bees used writing and pheromones? Was one of the People trying to tell the other one about a particularly large field of flowers that was full of pollen?
Sugarbag tackled Honey in the air and pulled her away from the People. “That’s dangerous to do!”
“But these People look nice—”
“They’re children, Honey. They’re not grown enough to know if we’re safe or dangerous.”
Honey was dragged by Sugarbag over to a nearby flower where they sat on opposite petals. Honey stared at the People with a confused look. “So, they’re like larvae?” Honey asked.
“Yes, they’re like larvae, you silly little dolt!”
“Hey… I’m not little!”
Sugarbag shook her head. “Never mind. You have to remember that these People can get very scared by us, especially the young ones.”
“But why would People be scared of us?”
As though waiting for the precise moment to intervene, Killer swooped in over Sugarbag’s and Honey’s heads. Her stinger glinted in the morning sun.
“Because we can hurt them,” Killer said, her voice dripping with an eerie glee.
Honey gasped, “Why would we do that?”
Killer shrugged. “Some People get too close to Hives, and when they do, they need to be reminded that bees can fight back. It’s a great cost, though…”
“What cost?” Honey said.
Killer held up her stinger, showing Honey the barbs on the end. “With big creatures like the People, our stingers get stuck in their thick skin. The barbs won’t pull out. Not like with other bugs and insects. If we were to sting those People, our stingers would be stuck in their skin so hard that our insides would literally rip out of our bodies if we tried to pull away!”
Honey almost gagged into the flower. “Ew, that’s a lie!”
“Nope!” Killer almost taunted. “Stinging a giant creature leads to an ultimate sacrifice… there are worse ways to die in this world,” she added, her voice dropping to a sincere timbre.
The three bees sat quietly, watching the People play their game. After a few minutes, Carpenter and the others showed up. Leafcutter’s wings had gotten better, allowing her to fly. She had already started snatching up pieces of twigs, grass, and bits of dirt for whatever project she was planning.
“So there are People here?” Carpenter asked.
Sugarbag nodded. “This is Bendiwood, the People’s Grafthome. The Hive on the Hill only reaches out to this little dwelling—one of the People’s Hives.”
“So there are more Hives of People?” Carpenter said.
“Yes. Westward. I’ve been to it once—but I didn’t want to stray too far. You won’t find any of Queen Bamrella’s patrols—”
“Just Bamrella,” Honey corrected Sugarbag. “She isn’t our Queen anymore.”
“Oh, right! You won’t find any of Bamrella’s patrols deeper within Bendiwood. Too many people for them—but not a bunch.”
Carpenter had an idea. “So what you’re saying is that there are enough People within inner Bendiwood to keep away those who would hurt us, but there are few enough so that they wouldn’t bother us too much?”
Sugarbag shifted on her petal. “I… I suppose that’s right…”
“Good,” Carpenter said. “That’s very good.”
* * *
The bees soared across the rural Bendiwood township, overtaking the outer farmlands and reaching the more populated central area. The bees had never seen so many People in their lives, nor dreamed that the People could live the way they did—the People’s own Hives were as massive as trees, and they traveled in strange contraptions of rust and metal that moved faster than even the quickest bees. Upon reaching the center of the Grafthome, the bees almost fainted from the sight—crossing roadways and Hive structures stacked side by side filled the area. Patches of trees and bushes and flowers and ponds were scattered among the structures, just enough for the bees to feed and supply themselves.
“I had no idea…” Leafcutter stuttered, stunned by the resourcefulness. “I thought I was sufficient with my preparations…”
“How about it, Bumble? Does it look like home?” Carpenter asked Bumble, trying to rouse the girl from the somber attitude that followed Juniper Cluster’s destruction.
Bumble smiled for the first time since—had she ever smiled? “It’s a home," she said. "It’s our new Hive…”
"What is that?"
"As a Queen does!"
"The worker shall now!"
A sewing needle doesn't choose silk
Nor an axe decide its timber
Does a tong deduce the taste of milk?
Or a fire define an sh-soot ember?
Killer buzzed out of the chimney stack and fluttered into the low morning. They had found an abandoned cabin, once a great home for the People, in the back yard of a larger, occupied dwelling. Each of the twenty or so houses in this little neighborhood had several acres—each household with its own territory.
Killer approved of these People.
They liked keeping their space.
But Killer didn’t wake up before her friends to marvel at the People’s architecture and living quarters. She had smelled a familiar scent wafting along the breeze, followed by the tiny shimmer of wings that meant trouble lurked nearby.
She hovered away from the chimney, keeping the slack-tiled roof to her left. Killer worked better with restricted flight, especially when her opponent held a natural advantage over her. Confined spaces were best, but she knew better than to try and lure the foe down the chimney.
So she waited, like bait in the open—
The robber fly struck from below, dashing upward, ready to clasp Killer in its deathgrip. The long-bottomed bug zipped past her, its wings flickering in the cool air. Killer had heard the bug approaching mere seconds before it swooped at her, and she ducked towards the shingled roof, rolling out of the way and landing on all six feet.
In no time, the robber fly doubled back, aiming straight at Killer. She waited, stinger out, then dashed backwards as the robber fly collided into the roof. Had she not moved, the robber fly would have pinned her dead beneath its terrifying grip.
So she lashed out with her stinger, flicking the barbed end over and over, sticking the robber fly once in the thorax and then again under one of its wings. The robber fly retaliated, its proboscis jabbing back, trying to stick Killer so that it could devour her innards like several other bees it had encountered in its brief life.
But Killer didn’t relent. She jabbed once more with her stinger, this time not retracting it for more stings. Instead, she kicked off the roof, sending her and the robber fly tumbling down the angled battleground. The robber fly lost its direction and flailed in disoriented confusion, but Killer kept her head. She curled her stinger, digging it upward, churning up the robber fly’s guts until she wrapped the barb around a particular meaty chunk.
Right before the two of them tumbled over the edge of the roof, Killer pulled back, dragging out the robber fly’s innards. The creature curled up in her grasp, then it fell limp, its corpse rolling over the side of the roof and colliding into—
A second robber fly slammed into Killer just as the first one disappeared, and it held her still on the side of the roof. A wave of shame washed over Killer—how could she have kept her guard down? Out in this wilderness, no monster could be considered alone, and though she had slain one of the dangerous predators, even she would fall victim to—
The robber fly toppled off of Killer and fell over the roof’s edge. As Killer regained her senses, she barely caught sight of a large, black and yellow shape rolling in the robber fly’s grip. It was the biggest worker bee Killer had ever seen, one so large and sturdy that it was able to tear down Juniper Cluster in less than a day.
Bumble held the second robber fly, dragging it off the roof with her. She felt the robber fly’s proboscis digging into her, stabbing where it could, trying as hard as possible to end her life, but Bumble ducked and took the attacks head on—yes, she was bleeding, but she still lived. As she kept the robber fly at bay, she barely noticed Killer soaring off the roof and tumbling down after them. Right before they crashed into the bushes below, the robber fly froze in place.
Killer slid her stinger out of the robber fly’s head, then flung the dead bug out of Bumble’s grip before all three of them crashed into the ground.
The two bees returned to the chimney. They were beaten, but alive.
“Well done,” Killer said, patting Bumble on the back. “They almost had me…”
“Almost…” Bumble said.
* * *
“Two robber flies?” Carpenter asked.
The bees gathered at the bottom of the shack’s fireplace. They stood on top of a pile of old, coal-black logs. The soot and smokey inside kept spiders and other predators away—but none of them considered a robber fly attack would come this early into their new settlement.
“Aye, but we did them in,” Bumble said, looking at Killer. “Says she’s not used to doin’ it on her own. She’s used to havin’ a whole swarm, y’know? Told her she ain’t alone. We’re swarm enough.”
Carpenter nodded, impressed at Bumble’s resilience “True, but still, we can’t let that happen again. Spiders and mantids and birds are avoidable if we play it safe, but if this world of the People has robber flies...”
Honey shivered. “They’re like ghosts! Sneaking and striking even when you’re in the sky!”
“And what if Bumble wasn’t there to help you?” Sugarbag called out Killer. “You’d have been gone—and you’re the strongest!”
“It’s my job to be the first to die,” Killer said with an air of pride. “It’s what I was meant to do. Front line attacks, quick defenses, astute delivery. Killing is what I do, and getting killed is how I’m supposed to leave this world. All part of the job.”
“Well your job needs a lot more killing and a lot less getting killed,” Carpenter scolded the bee. “Your heroism isn’t unappreciated. But we don’t need dead heroes. We need live ones. The next time you suspect a predator is nearby, let some others know. Bumble and Leafcutter and I are more than capable of fighting alongside you.”
“Hey, what about me?” Honey whined.
“You are literally wearing a bonnet and licking a petal-cup of pollen as we speak,” Carpenter said.
Honey stopped licking the petal-cup and examined herself up and down. “A bonnet doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t know how to defend myself!”
“Yeah, but it makes you look like a child—which you practically are,” Leafcutter said.
Honey huffed and went back to licking her petal-cup of pollen.
“So what do we do?” Sugarbag asked, eyes focused on the ashy coals. “There will be more robber flies. There are probably more out there right now.”
“Aye, there are…” Bumble said. “I’m sure of it.”
“They’re not going anywhere,” Killer said. “And neither are we, right?”
Carpenter thought for a long moment and weighed the options. They could stay here and keep fighting off robber flies until the predators eventually overthrew them, or they could once again pick up everything they could and move elsewhere—perhaps another place full of predators.
“I vote we leave,” Sugarbag muttered. “It’s dangerous here.”
“We need to fight,” Killer stood forward, stinger flashing.
“If we fight, we’ll be fighting every day for the rest of our lives," Sugarbag fussed.
Carpenter made her choice. “What about just a few days?”
They all turned towards their elected leader, none of them knowing what she planned.
“Killer, you can hear a robber fly coming from a ways off, right?”
“Yes. I’ve fought them plenty of times. They don’t surprise me anymore.”
Carpenter clapped her hands together. “It’s settled then. The robber flies won’t be attacking us after a few days if everything goes to plan.”
“Wh-wh-what plan?” Sugarbag muttered.
“There’s a way to keep the enemy away for good,” Carpenter said, smiling. “But it will take a lot of work, and I’ll need everyone… everyone… to follow through. Killer, let’s talk.”
* * *
By the end of the day, the bees had rooted out and slain twelve robber flies.
There would be no more problems from the predators once Carpenter’s plan had reached fruition. Even by dusk’s arrival, the bees were finding the robber flies in ever-decreasing numbers. After three more days of implementing Killer's search-and-destroy tactic, robber flies would trouble them no more in the Grafthome.
Makamira of the Tall Stalk Grove
“Who stands at the gate?”
“Who treads on the way?”
“Who waits at bay?”
“Who speaks that never spoke before?”
“Who knocks at the locked-up lock at the door?”
He woke that morning to the sounds of battle—so he thought. But as Makamira skittered out from the floorboards beneath the People’s abandoned shack, his curiosity waned once he saw that the supposed battle was nothing more than a gathering of bees tearing apart one of the robber flies that plagued the yard of his former master.
Makamira turned back to his hovel beneath the floorboards. Squabbles between bees and robber flies were of no concern to him. As a once and current Emperor, Makamira dreamed of his ancestral home among the groves—as his kinfolk told him. He, like many other Emperors, was born in a slave pen built by the People, meant to be traded and sold as entertainment.
He enjoyed the life with the People at first: bugs delivered daily, a small sun available at all times, and a complete lack of predators. But then the People had to leave.
He couldn’t leave with them.
So Makamira made the best of his new life, roaming this strange new landscape not too unlike the one his great ancestors once roamed. But these bees…
He would make his move later in the day, but until then, he would mull over his plots beneath the People’s shack. The bees could prove useful given due time.
* * *
“A drink for Sugarbag!” Killer shouted, pushing the little worker bee forward. “For obtaining her first true stripe in the day’s duties!”
Sugarbag managed a shy smile as she approached the wax table. Leafcutter had built it the night before, and after finding an especially delicious batch of tulips near one of the People’s windowsills, Leafcutter managed to turn the flowers’ pollen into a deliciously potent drop of honey.
“For you! The last one to earn her true stripe!” Leafcutter set a wax cup with the tulip honey in front of Sugarbag, who picked it up with a quivering hand.
She held the cup in front of her face and chugged the honey. It sloughed down her throat, its saccharine touch heralding a brief relief from the day’s trauma. She had killed a robber fly with the other bees no less than an hour ago. Killer and Carpenter helped pin it down, and the other bees tired it out, but Leafcutter decided that Sugarbag needed to make her first kill—she needed to "earn a stripe." In truth, Sugarbag did feel calmer once she finally scored a kill. Honey had already racked up three, which was surprising. Sugarbag thought Honey would be gentler like herself, but Honey viewed their attacks like a dance—she dodged and struck with the same enthusiasm she had as she hopped among flowers.
Carpenter pulled Sugarbag close to her, aware of the concern in the little bee’s eyes. “It’s okay to feel nervous about what you did. We’re free, and part of being free means we have to make choices we wouldn’t normally make.”
“A stellar performance,” Killer said, pouring a drink of her own. “Sugarbag, I would gladly partner with you on patrol from now on!”
Sugarbag drank another batch of tulip honey. To her own credit, she warmed up to the fact that she had ended another insect’s life. Those robber flies tried to eat her friends—heck, the flies would try to eat her as well if they wanted. Only Killer or Bumble had a chance against the monsters on their own, but all six of the bees together on patrol? What bug could stand up to such odds?
“Salutations, most humble of bees!” a stranger spoke from the bottom of the fireplace.
Killer and Bumble slammed down their cups and flew down the chimney stack. They scanned the dilapidated wooden room, stingers out, ready to intercept any potential foe.
“Down here, I say! There is no need for violence!”
The two bees were joined by the others, Sugarbag edging her way to the front of the little swarm. Sitting on the bricks of the fireplace below them was the most peculiar bug she had ever seen: a coal-black carapace and six segmented legs, not too different from a bee. But the bug was massive, even bigger than a mantis. Sugarbag estimated the creature to be over six inches long, and two dangerous claws topped the end of an extra pair of arms near its face. But the most morbid of the creature’s design was its tail—a long, black weapon tipped with a sharp stinger.
“This is no scorpion like I’ve seen…” Killer muttered.
The scorpion waved a claw. “Correct, my ever-observant friend! I am Emperor Makamira of the Tall Stalk Grove! I welcome you to the People’s Grafthome, Bendiwood!”
Killer separated from the swarm, lowering herself down to better see the creature, but not close enough to be within reach of its tail. A beam of sunlight reflected off the scorpion’s shiny hide, reflecting a glassy shine. Killer spoke, “There are no Tall Stalk Groves here, Emperor. Perhaps you’ve lost your kingdom?”
“Oh fear not. Fear not!” Makamira chuckled. “All of my kin are Emperors of some sort or another. My former kingdom was robbed of me—or rather, I was robbed of it. You see, the People have a dandy attitude of adopting exotic creatures such as myself, but alas, like many others not birthed from these lands, the People decided I was no longer worth their care. Abandoned, I was! But though I have no more luxuries of my former days, I am… free!”
Honey zipped forward, stopping next to Killer. “We’re the same!” she piped up.
Killer swatted at her sister bee, but Honey flipped out of the way and flew right up to Makamira’s face—a simple twitch of his stinger could impale her before the others could take a breath!
“The same? Do tell!” Makamira said, lowering his tail. “There is no need for impoliteness. Your friends, little bee, are understandably wary of me, but Emperor Makamira seeks only kinship and friendship in these tough times.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been friends with a scorpion before,” Honey said.
“And I’ve never known any bees who gave me such a good conversation!” Makamira said, grinning.
Carpenter flew next to Honey, her stern eyes focused on the new creature. “Makamira, I will be open with you. You’re correct. I am wary of you. And as the leader of our patrol, I don't seek to make any allegiances with someone who I am wary of.”
“Fair enough,” the scorpion said.
“And once more,” Carpenter added. “I don’t know what scorpions from the Tall Stalk Grove consider food, but the scorpions in our locale have no qualms with eating bees. So for the time being…” Carpenter grabbed Honey and pulled her away. “Our contact with you will remain curt and infrequent.”
Makamira bowed before the bees. “I bear no ill tidings to your decision. But I do bear gifts…”
The scorpion skittered down the brick fireplace and disappeared beneath one of the warped, wooden floorboards. Half a minute later, he emerged. Clutched within his claws were the withered, chewed-up corpses of five robber flies.
“I ever-so-enjoy snacking on these creatures. From what I witnessed this morning, you six have a grudge with them?” Makamira said.
“They’re natural predators for bees,” Carpenter said. “Some tried to kill us already.”
Makamira shrugged, then tossed the corpses onto the ash in the fireplace. “Then allow me to offer a treaty of non-aggression by making these creatures a staple of my diet for the next few days.”
He scampered off between the floorboards, the five robber fly corpses lying in the soot. The bees didn’t know whether to keep celebrating Sugarbag’s first kill or to discuss what actions to take regarding the unusually polite creature who slept beneath their new home.
Divvied sanctum border state
Flags at mast in colonnade
Furrowed terrace owned and paid
Cash amassed for profit made
Set a contract
Set a post
Set a fort and army host
Set a congress plied by most
To lord the low
And tax the ghost.
The bees had patrolled the abandoned yard near the shack for hours and hadn’t found the first sign of a robber fly. Carpenter’s blitzkrieg of progressive eradication seemed to work—the deadly bugs would trouble the bees no more in this area. Killer guessed that Makamira’s help was worth it. The Emperor Scorpion had killed five of the robber flies for them already, and for all they knew, he was scurrying among the bushes and tree limbs, ambushing the flies and feasting on them at this very moment.
Having a predator for their predators proved beneficial after all.
With no more robber fly encounters, the bees set off to gather pollen. Several nearby houses for the People in Bendiwood kept flowers and vegetables for their own use, and the People never swatted or sprayed the bees like the ones Honey spoke of when quoting her broodmates' rumors.
The bees never imagined such a variety of pollen: chrysanthemums, beautyberries, and pansies blanketed some of the yards for the People, and set in quaint rows were turnips, collard greens, and green onions. Back at the chimney, Leafcutter set to work with her massive kitchen and waxwork station, turning the pollen varieties into sweet honey that the bees were all-to-eager to sample.
Back at the Hive on the Hill, such an idea would be a fool’s fantasy.
* * *
As Bumble soared from a blossomed pansy to a wild daisy, she halted in her flight. Had the ground moved?
She backed up, her legs coated with pollen clumps. Cautiously, she hovered closer to the dirt-clod ground near the base of an overgrown bush. Surely she didn’t see the ground move! But strange sights and stranger creatures lurked out here beyond the Hive on the Hill…
As Bumble closed in near the base of the bush, a strange shape scampered across the dirt. The ground hadn’t moved, but the creature crawling across it blended in so well that it might as well have been a dirt pile.
“Um, pardon me sir? Miss?” Bumble asked the odd creature. “Are you… well, um, what are you?”
The creature was four inches long with four legs, a head, and a tail. Short fur covered its body, and as Bumble approached the little creature, she saw that its eyes were closed tightly. Its body rose and lowered at a rapid pace, taking quick breaths of air.
If Bumble didn’t know any better (she didn’t), she’d think this creature was hurt.
“I s’pose you don’t go about speakin' or nothin’, but maybe there’s another thing like you nearby?” Bumble thought out loud. “Not bein’ offensive or nothin’, Mister- or Miss What-You-May-Be, but I’d be a bit miffed with meself if I didn’t see ‘bout lettin’ another of the What-You-May-Be’s know where you happen to be at the moment in case, oh, there be an issue I’m not quite privy to right now. ‘Kay?”
The creature didn’t respond.
“Right! I’ll be takin’ that as an affirmation by lack of not tellin’ me that I’m not supposed to act!” Bumble said, then soared up to gain a better view of her surroundings.
For thirty minutes, Bumble’s journey to find the rest of the What-You-May-Be’s kinfolk evolved into nothing more than a series of “Oh, pardon me!” and “Sorry to be botherin’ you kind folk!” as her search proved as fruitless as an apple tree in January. But as Bumble was about to lose all hope of completing her little quest, she heard the unmistakable noise of a creature in peril.
Bumble raced towards the source, which was coming from a pine tree branch. Sitting on the bow of a branch was a regular-looking squirrel, bushy-tailed and fluffy in her Autumn coat. She wiped a paw across her face, then let out a babble of crying.
“Excuse me, Miss,” Bumble said, zipping up to the squirrel.
The animal turned her back to Bumble. “Oh, don’t pester me this day! Any day but this day!”
But Bumble was too stubborn to let a squirrel tell her to stop pestering her. “Well Miss, if you don’t mind me proddin’, which I think you do mind me proddin’, but my proddin’ may be a relief to whatever grief be hexin’ you, so here I prod while you sob: you, Miss Squirrel, seem to be distressed by some kind of terrible event, and seein’ as how I just recently stumbled upon a scraggly What-It-May-Be that seemed in a bit of peril, and you’re in a bit of peril, and maybe… maybe there be a connection of sorts?”
The squirrel stared at Bumble like the bee was a creature of another world.
Bumble cleared her throat, “Ahem, not that I know what larva squirrels look like, but I think I found a lost squirrel that—”
The squirrel on the branch scampered closer to Bumble. “Where is it!?” she shouted, a wild excitement in her eyes. “Where is my little Yannie!”
An accomplished smile spread over Bumble’s face. “Follow me, Miss, and I’ll bring you to a lost little fuzzy-somethin’ that needs its mother!”
* * *
Leafcutter and Killer sat in the kitchen of their chimney. Leafcutter placed four different cups of honey in front of Killer, each one brewed from a different combination of pollen from the previous day’s gathering.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Killer said, eyeballing one of the cups. “I’ve never taken to vegetable-based honey.”
“Never taken to vegetable-based honey!?” Leafcutter’s mandibles almost dropped to the table. She rarely took offense to her brewing, but displeasure of raw ingredients struck her harder than any personal insult. “Vegetable-based honey has been a staple of People-based Hives for… for… well, I don’t know how long! I’m not Carpenter. I can’t know everything—”
“You don’t have to,” Killer said, two sets of arms crossed. “All I’m asking you to know is that I’ve never taken to vegetable-based honey.”
“Vegetables are a constant in People’s own food supplies, and here in Bendiwood, vegetables are everywhere. How do you just… just not like the major supply of honey!”
“I’m more of a flower bee.”
“All bees are flower bees. Everything has a flower!”
“Leafcutter, all I’m saying is that I think that vegetable-based honey loses too much of its flavor in the actual vegetable part of the plant. Regular flowers put it all in the pollen.”
Leafcutter rolled her eyes so far into her head she almost lost them. “Oh, so you’re too good for vegetable-based honey. Is that it?”
“That’s not it—”
“It is too… it. It’s it! Just sitting up there in your upper Hive levels, watching us good, honest worker folk doing what we can with what we’ve got. I suppose you'll want me to just go knock on a nearby Hive and see if the Queen has any royal jelly she can—”
“Squirrel,” Killer muttered.
“—part with because somebody only wants top shelf honey—”
“Carpenter get back!” Killer shouted, pulling Leafcutter from the little wax kitchen.
Gripping the coarse bricks of above them was a squirrel that had climbed down the top of the chimney. She looked at the two bees curiously, and then a familiar voice spoke out.
“I made friends!” Bumble shouted, then flew up from behind the squirrel. “Leafcutter, Killer, I want you two to meet Kibby. She’s one of the Gilly-Garucks!”
“Bumble… what the—” Leafcutter started.
“She’s a squirrel!” Bumble blurted out.
“I can see that she’s a squirrel!”
“There’s like, a hundred of them!” Bumble shouted.
From the chimney opening above, several tiny, furry heads poked over to see the bees and Kibby near the coals at the bottom. Leafcutter and Killer froze in equal parts terror, confusion, and absolute befuddlement.
“They’re our new friends!” Bumble said, then took her place behind the kitchen. “Ooh! Vegetable-based honey. My favorite!”
In eight seconds, she devoured Carpenter’s entire stash.
A Plant Thing
"I found a thing today."
"What kind of thing?"
"Is it a thingy-thing?"
"What kind of thingy-thing?"
"Can I be a thingy-thing?"
"I don't know shut up you're a bee go away I found a thing."
Bees are awkward thingy-things.
Trace the skies with wingy-things.
Laced with yellow ringy-things.
Fuzzy butts with stingy-things.
“Go ahead,” Carpenter told the little squirrel. “Just a bit, though. It takes a while to make this stuff.”
Yannie the baby squirrel poked his nose forward. He and his mother, Kibby, were invited to the windowsill of the abandoned shack so that Yannie could taste some of the bees’ honey. Ever since Bumble found him lost under a bush, the Gilly-Garuck squirrel clan held the bees in their debt. Already Leafcutter had set off with a group of the critters to see how they harvested acorns and stored them for Winter—much the same way bees stored honey. And while the other bees were out collecting pollen, Carpenter decided to let little Yannie see what bees liked to eat.
The squirrel licked the slab of honey Carpenter had spread on the windowsill, then his little black eyes darted open as he nuzzled the rest of the windowsill, trying to lap up any honey he had missed.
“He likes it!” Carpenter said, smiling at the baby.
“He’s a growing boy,” Kibby said, pulling Yannie close to her. “But he’s got to get good and fat before we hide from the snow, isn’t that right, Kibby?”
Kibby didn’t answer. Instead he cured up in his mother’s grip. His curious eyes surveyed the interior of the shack, taking in the fireplace where the bees lived and the various empty, dilapidated rooms. He later fixed his gaze on a hole in the floor.
“Oh, not down there Yannie!” Carpenter said, scratching the squirrel on his nose. “That’s off limits to little squirrels.”
“Is it dangerous?” Kibby asked.
Carpenter shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe. Maybe not. Emperor Makamira of the Tall Stalk Grove lives down there, and we’d rather not disturb him.”
“Who is Emperor Makamira?”
“A large scorpion—the largest I’ve ever seen in my life. Bigger than little Yannie here.”
Kibby pulled her child closer to her. “I don’t like the sound of that. Scorpions don’t get that big—and aren’t you all scared?”
Carpenter shook her head. “Emperor Makamira killed several robber flies. Robber flies love to eat bees. We have more of an uneasy truce, I think. He lives beneath the shack, and we live in the chimney. He goes out and hunts, but he leaves us alone. Or well, he’s left us alone ever since we first met him—”
“Carpenter!” Killer zipped up to the windowsill, her face a sneer of terror. “Kibby, we need you! It’s Honey! She’s in trouble!”
* * *
“Pull harder!” Honey shouted, her voice muffled and strained. “It’s getting tighter!”
Bumble and Sugarbag pulled on both sides of the plant, but not even Bumble could get it to budge. Honey had been the first to find the strange plant down in a boggy section of the Grafthome, and she had told Bumble and Sugarbag that the plant “had the sweetest pollen she had ever smelled in her whole life!” But the sweetest part of the plant were its leaves, each split open into two halves, and when Honey landed on one of the leaves, the other half slapped shut on top, pinning and trapping her.
If Killer hadn’t heard their cries for help, then they would have had no hope of getting Honey free.
Even as Bumble and Sugarbag tried to open the mouth-like plant, the tantalizing aroma of the plant’s pollen played at their noses. That smell was the sweetest, most enticing odor they had ever found in their existence. But Honey’s dire situation kept them from being too enamored by the plant’s tricks. If they could just pull—
“What’s the matter?” Carpenter said, followed shortly by Killer, Yannie, and Kibby.
Sugarbag blurted out through tears, “Please! You have to help her! She’s trapped!”
Kibby placed Yannie on the ground, then scampered up to the plant. Several other mouth-like leaves surrounded it, and a little crown of blooming flowers topped the plant. She stuck her mouth into the base of the leaves and nibbled off the leaf-trap's stem, then leapt from the plant and let the plucked off leaf fall. The bees hovered around her as she gripped the two leaves and pulled them apart with ease. Killer had seen Kibby split an acorn in half the previous day—she knew Kibby would have no problem with a large leaf.
Honey was lying on the inside of one of the leaves. She was stuck to the fleshy inner surface, a look of embarrassment and disappointment on her face. Amazingly, she wasn’t scared. But she knew the other bees would never let her forget this day.
“Hold still, little bee. This might hurt,” Kibby said.
The squirrel slipped a paw under Honey and wriggled her around, slowly detaching her from the sticky surface. Honey grimaced as some patches of hair were plucked from her back, but soon enough Kibby pulled Honey free and tossed the leaf away.
“You’re free!” Sugarbag soared forward and threw her arms around Honey. “I thought that was the end of you!”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I thought it was the end of me too… but did you smell that stuff?” Honey waddled to her feet, slightly off balance from the missing hairs. “It was like heaven!”
Carpenter smelled the air, and before she chastised Honey for her reckless behavior, she held herself steady. The plant did smell pleasant… more than pleasant: intoxicating. Never had she encountered a flower, pheromone, or scent that beckoned to her the same was as this strange plant.
“What about the flowers on top?” Carpenter said. “Are they safe?”
“I stuffed my face into them and nothing happened—but they smelled great too!” Honey said, regaining enough mobility to go airborne.
“I’ll check them out,” Killer said, flying up to the petals. “We have Kibby here in case anything too strange happens again.”
Killer crawled around inside the flowers, grabbing at the pollen hidden within. Had the other bees not been there with her, she would have eaten every last bit of the pollen inside. The pollen called to her, like a drug dangling in front of an addict, and Killer had to will herself against investigating the other mouth-like leaves located below the blossom. After clutching enough pollen for Leafcutter to brew a batch of honey, Killer flew out of the flower.
“It’s safe up there. But… that was rough!” Killer said.
“What do you mean?” Carpenter said.
“I can see why Honey wanted to investigate the leaves after rolling around up there. This plant has a lure—a deadly lure. But if we can resist the lure, the rewards may be entirely worth it.”
“Well then let’s get away from the lure and get this reward of yours back to the chimney,” Carpenter commanded. “From now on, none of us return to this strange plant without one of the Gilly-Garucks accompanying us. We can’t risk something like this happening again.”
The bees nodded, and Kibby promised the bees that any of the squirrels from her troupe would be willing to escort the bees.
“Leafcutter will lose her stripes when she gets a taste of this stuff,” Killer mumbled as they returned to the chimney.
What crawls back you cast aside?
What home kept you classified?
Puddles dripped in calloused fleet
Of memories trickled, malice deep
Abandoned tandem vacant street
Slake the love you piked in heap
“I call it the Sweet Surprise!” Leafcutter announced from the kitchen.
The other five bees woke up extra early to witness the concoction Leafcutter had made. Killer brought her the pollen from the deadly plant the previous day, and Leafcutter immediately set forth to distill it. Giving Leafcutter the pollen was like offering a feast to a starving fool.
“Sweet Surprise?” Honey said. “That’s it?”
Leafcutter scoffed. “What do you mean?”
“Sweet Surprise sounds so…”
“Dumb,” Killer said.
“You know what I went through to get this, don’t you?” Honey said. “It should be something cool, like Death’s Whisper.”
“Or the Sting of Ambrosia,” Killer said.
“The Plight of the Bumblebee,” Honey said.
Leafcutter shouted above the others, “It’s called the Sweet Surprise because I made it, and that’s what it’s going to be! None of you would know the artform of distillery if it… if it clasped around you like a carnivorous leaf!”
Honey snatched the cup off the kitchen counter. “Well you’re right. I don’t know the artform of distillery… and it did clasp around me like a carnivorous leaf.” And with her final remark, Honey upended the entire cup into her mouth.
“The whole thing?” Sugarbag pouted. “What about us?”
Honey slammed the cup onto the counter. “I got eaten for it, sooooo I get to eat it! Okay? That’s the law of…” Honey stumbled over, bumping her head on the ground. “That’s… that’s good stuff, Leafcutter.”
“Are you all right?” Carpenter said, picking Honey up.
“It’s the aftertaste,” Honey said, smacking her mandibles. “And the beforetaste. And the midtaste. It’s the whole thing. All the taste… I feel… Oh, I’m so tasted!” Honey’s head drooped and her antennae flopped onto the counter.
“Well that’s new,” Leafcutter said.
“Too much too fast?” Killer suggested. “Is it… potent?”
Leafcutter shrugged. “If you fetch some more, we can find out.”
Bumble nodded, already volunteering for the task. “I’ll be collectin’ it. I’ll be gettin’ one of the Gilly-Garucks to help.”
“Safety first,” Carpenter confirmed.
The bees all scattered for their morning chores. Killer took patrol around the chimney while Leafcutter set to work distilling more pollen. Carpenter and Sugarbag flew off to a flower patch on the northern side of the Grafthome, and Leafcutter offered to keep an eye on Honey until she sobered up.
The seventh bee arrived shortly after.
* * *
Killer swept low along the grass, eyes focused beneath the shack. She hadn’t seen Makamira since his introduction to their swarm, and though she offered the scorpion her trust on the outside, she kept her wits up within. For all she knew, the scuttling monster was plotting his time away beneath their home, waiting to execute some dastardly plan.
And Killer needed a contingency—just in case.
But what could she do? None of the bees could kill him—he was too massive. A Gilly-Garuck could put up a decent fight—two Gilly-Garucks could overwhelm him. But that stinger’s venom? Would the Gilly-Garuck’s risk death in one of their tribes to save some bees?
Bumble had saved one of them…
“I wish I could trust others as easily as Honey…” Killer started, but another black and yellow-striped bug flew up in front of her.
“Hail, fellow broodmate!” the other bee called to her.
Killer halted, her stinger out. She was roughly a foot off the ground, and the shack rested to her left. If she needed to hug a surface for a fight, the ground would work best. This new bee… it had a smell…
“Is the new Hive ready?” the bee said.
Killer leered at the bee. “What do you know about a new Hive? Who are you?”
The bee bowed in the air. “I am Jipp, a former tenant of Queen Bamrella’s Hive on the Hill. May she forever rest in peace with the Ghost Hive Angorath in the Great Elsewhere!”
Rest in peace?
“Wait!” Killer shook the befuddlement from her head. “Bamrella is dead?”
Jipp nodded. “Oh yes! There was a revolt after Juniper Cluster collapsed—she was overthrown by the workers!”
Killer almost fainted out of the air. “That’s impossible!”
“Only for those who can’t resist her pheromones!” Jipp said, soaring above Killer. “But what if the populace of bees were riled up by a recent resistance? What if a rebellious group of bees who set off on their own incited the remaining bees to swarm and depose their tyrannical ruler?”
Killer waved her hands, motioning for Jipp to stop. “You’ll have to come with me. The others need to know!”
* * *
Killer brought Jipp to the chimney Hive where she met Honey and Leafcutter. While there, they exchanged stories of the Hive on the Hill and the bees’ current stay in Bendiwood. Honey sobered up, but once she was stable enough to ask questions, Jipp’s worried looks between Leafcutter and Killer showed that the poor stranger preferred Honey when she was too sloshed to speak.
In time, Bumble returned with more than enough pollen from the deadly plant, so Leafcutter set to work distilling her Sweet Surprise (“And no I’m not changing the name!”). When Carpenter and Sugarbag returned, they nearly fainted at the sight of another bee from the Hive on the Hill.
But Jipp’s pheromones were… different? She smelled like a bee from the Hive on the Hill, but the scent wavered a bit. Calibrating her identity was like tasting a drink that had a drop of peculiar seasoning in it.
“So now there isn’t a Queen anymore, and the Hive on the Hill is just… going on!” Jipp said, sipping her fifth cup of honey.
“But where do the eggs come from?” Carpenter said, trying to find a hole in the story.
“There are no more eggs,” Jipp said.
Carpenter shook her head. “There can’t be no more eggs. Somebody has to lay the eggs.”
“Who lays eggs in this Hive?” Jipp retorted.
“We don’t need eggs!” Honey said. “We’re just six bees living our best lives!”
Jipp fluttered in front of the fireplace, arms out. “As are we! The Hive on the Hill is no longer ruled from a wax crown ruler on the Sugar Throne. Instead of planning a cycle of birth and death, where the newborn become caregivers of caregivers of caregivers—a never-ending ritual—we have chosen to live. Now take what you’re doing with only six bees, then imagine what you could accomplish with ten thousand!”
“Ten thousand bees without a Queen?” Killer sighed, unable to comprehend so many bees living without direction.
Jipp continued her speech, circling around the living room of the shack. “Because of six bees who dared resist Bamrella, thousands more will feel the breeze of freedom. So, may the old Queen be forever blessed in Angorath, a Ghost Hive for ghost bees. Though we too shall join her one day, we will march through those hallowed gates not as children returning to their mothers, but as thousands of independent Queens rushing the bastion of tradition and nepotism. I have been sent, my dear icons, by the new Hive on the Hill to bring our six heroes back. Once you return, you may look upon the greatness inspired by—”
As Jipp reached the peak of her soliloquy, a segmented tail tipped with a stinger bolted forth from a crack in the floorboard. The stinger caught Jipp in the thorax, and her wings fell limp. Emperor Makamira skittered out from the floor’s crack, the once-ostentatious Jipp now impaled on the end of his stinger. Before the others could even scream, the scorpion began pulling Jipp apart with his claws, eating her right in front of them.
“Murderer!” Sugarbag shouted. “Y-y-you’re a monster!”
“She was our sister!” Honey roared, her little stinger out.
“Nonsense!” Makamira said between bites. “This is a wasp.”
The bees fell silent, beset by confusion moreso than fear.
Makamira burped. “You know? A wasp?”
“I’ve heard of wasps,” Carpenter said. “But she carried the pheromones of the Hive on the Hill. Only bees like us carry that scent.”
Makamira chuckled, already finished with eating Jipp. He tossed the parts he didn’t like to the side, where they lumped in a lifeless heap on the wooden floor. “She smells the way she smells because someone helped her smell that way.”
“Who would want a wasp to smell like us?” Honey said.
“Someone who wants to find you. Specifically, someone who wants to hire a third party to find you. Jipp isn’t some bee from your Hive. She’s a killer. Your former Queen remembers you, it seems. I'd reckon she's perfectly alive and still sitting on that fancy throne of hers.” Makamira smiled, then disappeared beneath the floor. “But Emperor Makamira enjoys your company! And Emperor Makamira doesn't parlay with rulers who trespass into his domain.”
The six bees sat in silence for several minutes. None of them could process Makamira’s words quickly enough to break the noiseless atmosphere until Carpenter spoke.
“Leafcutter…” Carpenter said. “We’re going to need a lot of Sweet Surprises.”
Jai, the Withertrick Song
There be People in the world outside the Hive.
Much like us, oh yes.
Some will buzz.
Some will harvest.
Some will sting.
Some will bid a Queen.
But make care when the People near.
For they be tempered
Or they be wild
Or they be ridden flush with love
There be People in the world outside the Hive.
There be People.
And they be here.
“Carpenter, is that you?” A squirrel spoke from a nearby tree.
Carpenter was almost fully laden with pollen, having finished her final chore for the day. The sun overhead was just beginning to set, and Carpenter looked forward to a nice evening with her sisters at the kitchen in the shack’s chimney. Relations with the Gilly-Garucks had been strong for the recent days, so Carpenter always took their need for conversation seriously.
“Yep! It’s me,” Carpenter said. “You’re getting a lot better at picking out who we are!”
The squirrel nodded, but Carpenter felt a hint of hesitation in the squirrel’s voice. It seemed nervous, like it didn’t want to talk.
“Well, go ahead!” Carpenter said.
“It’s the shack where you’re staying…”
Carpenter felt her stomach sink. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing is wrong… maybe.” The squirrel absently scratched the side of its neck. “But you need to be at the shack.”
* * *
Leafcutter hid near the top of the chimney in the shack. An eerie suspicion crept up her spine when she heard the rumbling metal-thing approach. For the past week, the People hadn’t approached the old home where the bees were staying. They stayed in the newer, more furnished Hive on the same property space. But only minutes earlier, Leafcutter had heard a strange metal-thing roll up to the shack.
And now one of the People was walking around inside their home!
He was tall—all People were tall for bees, and his hair looked bone-white in the rays of the sun peering through the window. He wore denim overalls that were older than most children, and the oil-stained cap sitting on his head sported a symbol that Leafcutter couldn’t interpret—she never learned how to read the People’s runes.
“Leafcutter!” Carpenter muttered from above. She was standing at the top of the chimney with one of the Gilly-Garucks nearby.
“Oh thank Angorath you’re here!” Leafcutter whispered. “It’s the People!”
“I know,” Carpenter said. “The Gilly-Garucks say that this is his domain.”
“Well for being his domain, he doesn’t spend a lot of time here!”
The squirrel spoke, “He is Jai the Withertrick Song. He’s lived in this area since the time before my grandmother’s grandmother!”
“Is he dangerous?” Leafcutter asked, flying down to the hearth and peeking up at him. “He just kind of... lumbers around like a great beast.”
“Don’t fly into his face,” the squirrel said. “He’ll swat at you.”
Jai took a few steps towards the fireplace, causing Leafcutter to flutter up to the chimney top with Carpenter and the Gilly-Garuck. The old man peered through his glasses, then fixed his eyes on the wax-built kitchen and mini-Hive that the bees had built.
“No!” Leafcutter shouted, but Jai wouldn’t heed her warnings.
The man reached a calloused hand up the chimney and grasped at the beeswax growth, plucking it from the chimney and letting it drop into the ash fireplace below. He then pressed it with a pen from his pocket until it broke in two. After inspecting it, he decided the strange insect structure wasn’t worth his time any more, then set about exploring the shack.
Leafcutter and Carpenter soared down the chimney and landed near the broken kitchen. Hexes of honey were leaking all over the sooty fireplace, and as they tried to gather the precious honey, the Gilly-Garuck scampered down after them and picked the two pieces up in its mouth.
Jai didn’t notice the bees, but the suddenness of a squirrel landing in his fireplace was enough to startle him. He stumbled backwards, cursing in a language the bees couldn’t know, and he would have thrown his pen at the Gilly-Garuck had it not already darted back up the chimney, gripping the brick walls like its life was at stake.
The bees and the squirrel waited on the roof, allowing Jai to finish his duties. After half an hour, the man left the shack and climbed back into his metal-beast. It rumbled to life with him inside, and he drove away to the People Hive where the others lived.
“Leafcutter,” Carpenter started. “I think this Withertrick Song sort of People is too massive to fit under the shack. So I’ve been thinking…”
“But Emperor Makamira lives under the shack,” Leafcutter argued.
Carpenter nodded. “I know, which means that our little life outside the Hive on the Hill is about to be a lot more complicated.”
Kindly welcome foreign folk
Sit awhile exchange what spoke
How's the husband?
How's the wife?
How's the hand conceal the knife?
How's the foul play wanton strife
That hacks the steadfast clean from life?
Hidden household pilfered bare
Wilt intention steal once shared
Slavered grin now grime ensnared
Befriend the friendless, then beware
The previous night and the current morning were spent in a scramble. Leafcutter took charge, helping the bees place and form beeswax into the correct locations beneath the shack. With their kitchen destroyed, over half of the stockpiled honey had gone to waste. So the bees relocated just beneath the raised boards of the shack's front porch. Maybe Jai wouldn't find them down there.
But on a different note, hopefully they were far enough from Makamira’s territory for him to not feel reproached—not that any of them had asked. The creepy scorpion hadn’t been seen since he popped out of the floor and ate Jipp. But all of the bees agreed that Makamira, though dangerous, had their best interests at heart. He had actively saved them from being tricked into going back to the Hive on the Hill.
That meant he was an ally, right?
* * *
The bees spent the afternoon gathering honey. The Gilly-Garucks showed the bees a beautiful garden in one of the People’s backyards, so the bees had plenty of work to keep them busy. They rolled around in the pollen and dropped it back off at the new Hive so many times that even Honey fell silent. Carpenter guessed that with all bees working overtime to harvest pollen, their honey stores would return to normal, especially with Leafcutter having a fully reconstructed kitchen.
By the time the sun set, the bees nearly collapsed back at the Hive from lack of rest. Bumble plopped into a heap under one of the stairs, and Killer downed more than eight cups of honey before crawling into a hexroom to rest her wings. Honey and Sugarbag cuddled together and massaged each other’s wings, leaving only Leafcutter and Carpenter awake.
“And still no sign of His Majesty?” Carpenter said, referring to Makamira.
“Nope. I don’t smell him. I don’t hear him. It’s like he disappears,” Leafcutter said, setting a sluice to help divide the honey in her distillery. “Which he probably does.”
“Don't scorpions dig?” Carpenter wondered. “I want to say they do. I think they’re burrowers.”
“So when Makamira says he is living beneath the house, he is literally beneath the house.”
Carpenter shrugged. “Sounds like it. He could be beneath us as we… speak…”
Carpenter and Leafcutter both glanced at the dirt below them. The stairs had no “floor” for the bees. Their kitchen and hexrooms were built on a vertical surface, but with the ground only a foot beneath their little Hive, both bees could imagine the pitch-black monster rumbling out of the ground and snatching them one-by-one with his deadly tail.
“I need some fresh air,” Carpenter muttered.
“That sounds like a great idea,” Leafcutter agreed.
The bees fluttered into the cool night air. A breeze chilled them, but not enough to send them underneath the stairs. Winter would arrive any day so it seemed, but even with all the terrors and setbacks they had encountered at Bendiwood, their troubled freedom outweighed any “safety” that Bamrella’s Hive on the Hill promised them.
Carpenter and Leafcutter turned to see a family of moths gliding along the night air. Their faces were calm and wispy, as worriless as any larvae who had no sense of the world’s ills.
Carpenter and Leafcutter curtsied towards the moths. “Greetings! Fine night?”
One of the moths loop-de-looped while the others laughed. “The finest of nights! This is the night of Shaur Shan!”
“Oh, Shaur Shan!” Leafcutter smiled, then glanced at Carpenter. “Do you know what that is?” she whispered.
“Never heard of it,” Carpenter grumbled back, then turned to the moths. “What is Shaur Shan, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Shaur Shan is the ancient moon angel who appears only at night!” the moth said. “Never has Shaur Shan visited this little neighborhood in the Grafthome. She is the shepherd to the Great Elsewhere, a beacon that blinds the troubles from our lives! And tonight we will pray at her temple!”
The moths bid their farewells and left the bees. But Carpenter and Leafcutter were too intrigued to let the moths’ peculiar behavior go unanswered, so they tagged along behind the oddball bugs and followed them on their trek.
As they flitted through the sky, other moths and a couple of beetles joined on the strange journey to Shaur Shan. Carpenter and Leafcutter ached to tell each other how odd the whole parade seemed, but they kept mum so as not to disturb any sanctity the bugs felt regarding Shaur Shan.
As the bugs left the domain of the shack, they entered the territory of Jai the Withertrick Song. His Hive bordered the same property that the shack was on, and judging by Jai’s poking around inside the shack on the previous day, Carpenter assumed he owned both the shack and his Hive.
They rounded the corner, and Carpenter threw a hand out to push Leafcutter behind the house. She caught a glimpse—a terror!
Shaur Shan was no angel, but a destructive nightmare!
“What’s going on?” Leafcutter said. “I want to see!”
Carpenter kept a hand over her eyes and leapt behind the house with Leafcutter. “They’re dead!”
“Dead! They’re dead, Leafcutter! Shaur Shan isn’t an angel—it’s a zapper!”
Leafcutter shook her head. “I don’t know what that is…”
“The People make zappers to kill bugs—even bees! They give off a light that’s impossible to resist, and it lures you in. Then when you get too close, the zapper bolts you like a lightning strike and you explode into a thousand pieces!”
“But the moths—”
As if answering Leafcutter, several loud POPS followed by flashes of blue echoed from the other side of the house.
“There aren’t anymore moths,” Carpenter said. “Now come. We dare not venture on this side of Jai’s Hive at night—that’s when he activates the zapper. That’s when he tricks the other bugs into thinking Shaur Shan is going to save them.
* * *
Leafcutter curled up in her hexroom. Carpenter had already gone to sleep, and as Leafcutter tried to shake the noise out of her head—the POPS—she made a mental tick of all the other terrors that existed out here in the Hive on the Hill.
All those bugs—dead.
She gave once last look towards the dirt beneath them. If Makamira burst out of the ground and slew them all in that instant…
There were worse ways to go, she supposed.